Silicosis is a progressive lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust. Silica is a component of soil, sand, granite and other rocks. Silica dust is formed during activities such as mining, quarrying and sandblasting.

There are three types of silicosis – simple chronic, accelerated and acute.

Simple chronic silicosis is the most common type of the disease, caused by long-term exposure to low amounts of silica dust.

Accelerated silicosis occurs after a large amount of exposure to silica over a shorter period of time.
Acute silicosis happens when lungs are exposed to a very large amount of silica over a short period of time.

Very high exposure to silica dust can cause the onset of the disease within a year, but normally, it takes about 10 to 15 years to develop silicosis.

Symptoms of silicosis include:

  • Trouble breathing and shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Cough

Silicosis can also cause swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes, lung scarring and low blood oxygen levels.

To diagnose silicosis, your doctor will take a detailed medical and job/hobby history to determine if you have been exposed to silica and how often. Physical exams and tests such as chest x-rays, chest CT scans and pulmonary function tests are also used to determine if it is silicosis.

There is no cure for silicosis, but treatment to improve quality of life and slow the progression of the disease includes:

  • Discovering the source of the silica dust and removing exposure to it
  • Medicines to ease breathing trouble and fight respiratory infections
  • Limiting exposure to other lung irritants, including smoking
  • Regular tuberculosis (TB) testing, as those with silicosis are more susceptible to TB

To help prevent development of silicosis in high-risk occupations and hobbies, wear dust mask and respirators while working and don’t smoke. For more information on protecting your lungs from silica dust, visit OSHA’s website.